Patrick Watson’s Adventures In Your Own Backyard is one of the most overlooked records of last year, and we don’t use that term lightly. His Polaris Prize winning arrangements conjure equal images of Sufjan Stevens and Ennio Morricone, with a particular depth and teeth that is all his own. We had a chance to catch up with him on his last tour to discuss his record, his predictions for the music industry and what it’s like to hear yourself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
Frontier Psychiatrist: My first experience with you was on a skate video, which is certainly an atypical venue for your music.
Patrick Watson: Ah yes, Kilian Martin. I think that’s my favorite video we’ve been featured on, because I used to skate when I was younger. I really never thought that would have happened, and so when I saw that, I thought it was awesome. He’s a friend of mine now, and he came out to our last show in LA. I’m looking forward to hanging with him again.
I think that’s a new trend in skateboard and snowboard videos as well, to have a more emotional and psychedelic sort of experience. It’s great to see an artist like Kilian Martin take off like he has.
FP: This new record is excellent, many congratulations on your great work. What stood out to me was your organic approach, and I’m sure that it’s sound is inspired in part by the fact that you made it at home.
PW: Yeah, we wanted to make something that when stripped to just voice and guitar, it would still hold up. We were inspired by songs that just held up by themselves; all of the arrangements weren’t to save the song, but just a bonus. I think that was a very different approach on this record.
We made it in my home studio. The other ones we made all around the world in all sorts of strange spots, you know? This one was really great because we didn’t have a time limit. We could spend the amount of time to get exactly what we needed. If we couldn’t get something exactly right that day, we didn’t have to spend a billion dollars to get it right the next.
FP: That seems to be the appeal of home studios, and why they keep growing in popularity.
PW: Yeah, in the old days artists could afford to do a full album in big studios because they had the budget. We just don’t have the budgets anymore, with album sales being what they are. You don’t get the opportunity to dig your feet in the studio anymore.
But not always, you know, because you can show up to a studio one week and be inspired and get all your work done in two hours. I’m not closed to doing it that way, but this record really needed to be done on our own time.
FP: Did you build your studio yourself?
PW: I’ve been building this studio for the last 10 years one little piece at a time. I’ve been doing vocals and piano at home for a while now, but I was never set up to do drums and that sort of stuff, so I just did some updates. The room sounds amazing, and I paid my neighbors off with all my money. The drums through the wall can be pretty terrible.
We live in a loft sort of space, and when you just hear the drums through the wall, it’s pretty weak when you can’t hear the song.
FP: Did they get a thank you in the liner notes?
PW: Of course: “to all my neighbors who put up with my crap.” It’s the frontier of the music industry, it’s a new world, and it’s difficult to find your way into it. Making an album today, we have nowhere near the budgets a similar size artist would have had back then. We’re just trying to make ends meet.
I never really know if the “album” will still be around as I sit down to make one, you know? Do people still buy albums? Who knows what we’re getting into? It seems like we’re getting into the single world, or maybe just mini-albums.
FP: An interesting statement coming from a guy who clearly makes albums.
PW: You have to remember that the way your music is distributed can maybe alter or inspire a change in the way you think about your music. I’m open to the idea that doing mini-albums or singles might inspire something different out of me, and maybe change what I do for the better.
For example: the printing press. Imagine how that completely changed music. Instead of having local composers, to everybody having access to different composers all around the world, think about how that would have affected their songwriting process. You never know what’s better or for worse, you just try to pay attention to what the changes are, and use them to your advantage. Don’t try to fight the current.
FP: I’d say you guys have certainly taken advantage of the expanded mediums available, especially with all the great live videos of the band playing together. To be able to capture the essence of a Patrick Watson show without experiencing it firsthand, is something that wasn’t able to be done not that long ago.
PW: I think the biggest advantage of the internet is—aside from the sharing of information and all that stuff—is accomplishing what tv and radio have never done: capturing reality all across the world. It’s like those blogotheque videos, that would have never existed in the music video world. With no mics and no amplifiers, musicians take their music into acoustic land, and make some pretty amazing things.
I have no idea where the music industry is going, but I think there will be a movement away from the long playing albums. I think there will be more mini-albums and singles, that’s my guess.
FP: That’s unfortunate.
PW: Think about it. People sit around with their friends on their iPod and spend more time thinking about what song they’re going to play next, and not the song that’s playing.
FP: But wouldn’t you say that the fracturing of the music industry has allowed each listener to enjoy what they are looking to enjoy, be it singles or albums?
PW: That’s true. Honestly, I don’t like to repeat myself, so I’m just looking for the next way to release my music. It’s fun because we’re all pretty open at this point. It’s adventurous, and I like taking risks just to see what happens.
FP: Your music certainly is adventurous.
PW: It’s funny, every time I try to do something more “inside the box,” it always backfires on me. Every time I try something new, or more adventurous, those are the things that have worked best for me so far. I’m just going to keep up in that world and see how that treats me.
FP: How’s it treating you right now?
PW: It’s treating me really well. I’m beginning to accept that I’ll never be in the pop world, and that means that I can do whatever the fuck I want. Now that I know that is over, I don’t have to worry about that anymore, and I can do crazy shit, and it doesn’t really matter. In a way, I feel relieved.
I want to really take the time to make our next project to be something really special, and fun and outside the box. It’s exciting.
FP: Another benefit of the fractured music industry is that you can have a successful career outside the pop world.
PW: It’s true. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I do now had I emerged ten years earlier in the major label system. I would have had to have compromised, and had to have done a radio single and things like that. There’s more room for people like me.
FP: What are some of your chosen methods to distribute your music? I just recently heard you on an episode of The Walking Dead. Is TV a lucrative manner to release music?
PW: Lucrative is a big word. It’s probably not as lucrative as people would think, being on a big show like that. It’s lucrative in a way that it gets more people to hear your music, and that’s much better than radio. It’s a very powerful way of sharing your music, especially when the show is good, which is not always the case.
Although, it’s pretty weird to hear myself in a fictional world that I’m fully immersed in. It kind of killed it for me, but still great.
FP: The Walking Dead have real good taste in music though, you’re in good company.
PW: The thing about the film industry, is that I think they’re the last real music fans. They aren’t interested in scene or how cool you are, they just want something that works with their film. So they’re real fun people in that way, a lot of them are really nice.
FP: That would be a great job to have. Any ideas on how to go about getting it?
PW: Oh totally. I think everybody wants that job. It’s being right place and right time, but they’re also great people.
FP: I used to get bashful when I wanted to tell people that I wanted to work in the music industry, because everyone wants to, right?
PW: Well, maybe not anymore. But there’s a difference between wanting to, and having the skills and being resilient enough to actually do it. You just need to ask yourself: is this something I want to do for now, or is this something I want to do for the rest of my life?
FP: I imagine you’ve asked yourself that by now.
PW: Oh yeah, lots of times. Yeah, lots of times I’m like “is this really what I want to be doing? Being far from my kids and always being in a hotel room or a van?” We don’t get a lot of time in the cities we’re in, so it’s just a lot of time in the van watching Walking Dead or something like that.
But playing shows is amazing. You gotta respect that walking out to a crowd on stage every night. It’s an amazing feeling, really. But it takes a lot out of you. Every night has to be magic, you know? You want to make it a moment that people won’t forget. You don’t want to let them down.
Peter Lillis is Managing Editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. He doesn’t have a backyard, but if he did, this would be the soundtrack of his adventures.
Photo credit: L’Hibou